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Stance on Pre-K Academics Shows Growth Misconceptions

To the Editor:

Nowhere is it more apparent "what's wrong with our education system" than in the statement you reported last month made by Georgia's state schools superintendent, Linda C. Schrenko ("Georgia Chief Takes Aim at NAEYC Materials," Feb. 14, 1996). Her view that academics should be the major goal of pre-kindergarten programs illustrates the misconceptions many people have regarding educational growth and development.

Jean Piaget's pedagogics that children will learn when they are ready is basically undisputed. Maria Montessori, over 100 years ago, stated that structure, hands-on learning, and getting-along play major parts in early-childhood education.

As a parent of six children and an educator with 30 years of experience working with grades K-1, I'm keenly aware that children learn by leaps and bounds when they are ready. They can no more be force-fed academics than they can be forced at a prescribed time to tie shoelaces, potty train, or eat their vegetables.

Robert Fulghum's claims in his book All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten are 100 percent appropriate when it comes to what counts in helping children develop into people with positive attitudes, ready to tackle academic development. Neither Mr. Fulghum, Maria Montessori, nor Jean Piaget ever stressed academics at the pre-kindergarten level, and I totally agree.

We are in a frenzy these days to push children into early academics, unnecessary testing, and unrealistic expectations.

If people in high-powered positions really want to improve the educational scene, they can: mandate the teaching of metrics, beginning in grade 1; put effort toward spelling reform; place emphasis on the values of technical education as well as professional training; revamp mathematics presentation; and relate book learning to the real world.

There is no question of the need to strive for excellence in our schools. But preschool children should not be thought of as academicians. This type of learning develops for most children around age 6. Georgia's children have much to lose if Ms. Schrenko's ideas reach fruition.

Donald Neal Thurber
LaSalle, Mich.

Bilingual Education Works Where Well-Implemented

To the Editor:

I was aghast to read your well-written but lopsided article on parents "worrying" about bilingual education. ("Parents Worry Bilingual Education Hurts Students," Feb. 28, 1996). I hope that in the very near future you can rebalance the spin by contacting individuals who know something about the field. The conference this month of the National Association for Bilingual Education in Orlando, Fla., may be just the place, since I am certain that this article will be much discussed there.

It is important for your readers to understand that bilingual education works where it is well implemented. They must also discover why bilingual education is not always done correctly. You also need to publish the litany of cognitive and emotional abuses that ensue from "submersion" in English when a child is not ready to make a transition to formal instruction in his or her second language. That should give parents something to worry about.

Ernesto M. Bernal
Acting Director
Center for Bilingual Education
Phoenix, Ariz.

Invite an Orthodontist To the Education Summit?

To the Editor:

Chester E. Finn Jr.'s Commentary, "On Governors and Ostriches" (Feb. 14, 1996), is as predictable as it is boorish. A fellow at the Hudson Institute and a professor at Vanderbilt University, Mr. Finn offers suggestions for the upcoming educational summit of the nation's governors while he laments that both the political left and right have their heads in the sand as the public schools sink.

Mr. Finn trains his heaviest guns on those on the left who are caught up in "relativism, multiculturalism, equalitarianism," etc. In place of these, one hopes that Mr. Finn would not substitute indoctrination, racism, and elitism.

While condemning public education as an "ostrich-like profession," Mr. Finn himself wears the ostrich feathers. In the face of the fact that the idea of private corporations running public schools has received a huge setback with the failure of Education Alternatives Inc. in Hartford, Conn., he contends that "the controversial idea of public schools managed by private corporations is winning converts."

But Mr. Finn is only warming up. He doesn't want many mathematicians or historians around when educational standards are established. Rather, he would reserve places for "bus drivers, policemen, shopkeepers, engineers, preachers, and orthodontists." Orthodontists?

Let's apply these standards to Mr. Finn. He should ask a bus driver to take over at the Hudson Institute, and let's have a policeman assume the reins at Vanderbilt. And, please, governors, invite them both to the education summit.

Henry C. Zabierek
Lebanon, N.H.

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